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Date Permissions Signed


Date of Award

Summer 2017

Document Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)



First Advisor

Geary, Edward

Second Advisor

Hanley, Daniel M., 1973-

Third Advisor

Linneman, Scott

Fourth Advisor

DeBari, Susan M. 1962-


Stereotype threat, a phenomenon in which learners feel at risk of confirming negative stereotypes about their abilities, is often associated with spatial reasoning abilities in geoscience and has a disproportionately negative effect on women. This study examines how students’ growth or fixed mindsets mediate or amplify the effects of stereotype threat regarding self-perception of their spatial skills and learning how Earth’s cyclical orbital geometry influences its climate.

Undergraduate, introductory-level Geology students at Western Washington University were given a Pre-Test and Post-Test, a spatial reasoning test, and an assessment of their spatial reasoning abilities. Of the 154 participants, 41 had a Fixed Mindset, and 113 had a Growth Mindset. Regression analyses were performed to examine if the message to the Treatment Group: “The results of the Spatial Reasoning Task usually show a difference in performance by gender. It is thought that men tend to outperform women on spatial reasoning tasks,” triggered significant differences in students’ performance and perceptions of competency.

Students with higher scores on the Spatial Reasoning Task earned higher Milankovitch Cycle Post-Test scores, and students with a Growth Mindset tended to have higher Post-Test scores than those with a Fixed Mindset. Participants in the Control and Treatment groups had similar scores on the Post-Test, though exposure to the stereotyped message (membership in the Treatment Group) had a more negative influence on women’s scores than a positive one on men’s scores. Of women in the Treatment Group, those with a Growth Mindset earned higher Post-Test scores, suggesting a Growth Mindset can offer resiliency to stereotyped messages. Stereotype lift was not evident in Post-Test scores, as men who received the stereotyped message who had a Fixed Mindset did not earn significantly higher scores than those with a Growth Mindset.

Gender was the weakest predictor of improvement in score from Pre-Test to Post-Test for the Control group, supporting the idea that no inherent difference exists in students’ scientific learning abilities based on gender. Given these results, instructors are encouraged to offer students practice with spatial reasoning skills as high scores on spatial reasoning tasks strongly predicted high scores on related climate science content. Furthermore, instructors should foster students’ Growth Mindsets toward learning spatial reasoning skills productively, and equitably, as stereotyped messages were shown to impact both students’ scores and self-perceptions.





Western Washington University

OCLC Number


Subject – LCSH

Space perception--Sex differences; Spatial ability--Sex differences; Stereotypes (Social psychology); Threat (Psychology); Milankovitch cycles--Study and teaching--Psychological aspects; College students--Attitudes; Sex differences in education




masters theses




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